Neepawa cross-country star considering post-secondary options


By: Lanny Stewart

It took Daniel Heschuk until he was in Grade 10 to figure out he 'had something'. The 'something' to which Heschuk is referring to was his ability to run -- fast. 

The 17-year-old Neepawa track athlete -- now in Grade 12 -- has seen his stock rise so-to-speak in the local cross country scene recently, finishing second and fifth overall respectively in the Zone 7 and Manitoba High School Athletics Association High School Cross-Country Championship; both of which are five kilometre events where he ended up finishing with personal best times (under 17 minutes). He also finished second overall at the Chris McCubbins Age Group Cross-Country Championship in Winnipeg late last month. 

Heschuk's success has garnered him notoriety outside the local region as well as Canadian universities have been in contact with him to join their respective track teams. 

"I've talked to the University of Regina, and Lakehead University as well," he said. "I haven't made any real decision yet, as I like to keep my options open. Right now I'm trying to narrow them down, and figure out which universities have the courses that interest me."

Heschuk's tenure on the Neepawa Tigers track team began in Grade 9 as a way to stay in shape, he says. 

"I really enjoyed the practices, but it wasn't anything I really cared about too much," he said jokingly. "When grade 10 rolled around, I was running every morning before school, just small runs, leading up to the my first season of cross-country where I realized that I actually was decent."

"When Daniel first joined the team, I remember him being very keen, a great listener and being small," said Tigers track coach Bryce Koscielny. "He's not a big guy now by any means, but I remember thinking he was small in stature." 

Koscielny says when Heschuk started competing in track, he wasn't sure how he would do and didn't expect him to get to where he is today.

"His times back in Grade 9 and 10 were OK. He wasn't doing what he is today, that's for sure," said Koscielny.

So, what changed? How has Heschuk become such a well-known commodity in the local track scene? Koscielny says it's because of his commitment to the sport which has helped him develop into an athlete that has track coaches take notice.

"It takes a lot of work to be successful in track and the long distances don't come easy if you aren't in shape," said Koscielny. "There is still a speed element to distance running and you have to be running and doing different things to develop regularly and Daniel has really done that month after month. 

"There's really no offseason," he continued. "He does have some down-time periods with low-training volume, but he really never stops, which is a major reason he's successful."

Koscielny says his lifestyle plays a key role in his success as well.

"He runs a lot for one, but he works out, he eats properly and he has made running a part of his life and daily routine. He's a fit young man and I know in the summer, he bikes a lot and swims as well, which helps with his overall conditioning and allows for his body to handle the amount of running he does."

Although Heschuk still competes in regular track events, he excels in cross-country running, which are 'off-road' and vastly different. 

"It's rough terrain, its hills, sand, and maybe it's wet and definitely colder than track season," said Koscielny. "Daniel's longest distance on the track is a 3000 metre, which is only three kilometres and it's around a paved surface with a lot of different strategy involved. He does drop down to 1500 [metre] and 800 [metre], but Daniel does much better at the longer distances like five and even 10 [kilometre] road races."

Heschuk agrees with his coach, saying his strategy does in fact change when competing in cross-country events.

"In track, I can use my nervousness, and adrenaline to my advantage because the races are shorter, and there aren't any hills to contend with," he said. "With cross-country, I must make sure I am completely calm and not get too worked up, because there will be a good chance that I'll crash mid-race if I do."

Heschuk's commitment to track didn't come from external pressure -- those close to him. In fact, Heschuk says he was never someone who ended up on the podium after sporting events while growing up. 

"I was always the slowest in sprints, worst in jumping, and not extremely coordinated," he said. "The only thing I realized I could come out on top in were the daily runs to the highway we did at HMK [Hazel M. Kellington School] in preparation for the Eden [annual] run. From there, I decided to work with that."

Heschuk is proof that hard work does pay off. 

Heschuk has also received some interest from universities south of the border, although he's more interested in competing in Canada.